The Great American Obsession

America is great. America is the greatest nation on earth. Make America great again.

Is it an obsessive spiral of self-delusion, an illusory immaculate conception, or, nothing but repetitive, compulsive jingoism?

The Democratic National Convention in the summer of 2016 chose Hillary Clinton as the presidential nominee, with Barack Obama backing her against ‘socialist’ Bernie Sanders, who, was immensely popular, especially among the young and educated. She won 56 per cent votes of the delegates – he got 47 per cent, with the big money lobbies pitched against him.

Wrote Ron Fournier (The Atlantic, June, 2016): “Obama hopes to reframe the election for the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton. Voters are demanding radical change, but the former secretary of state is the emblem of status quo and Trump is living disruption. She represents a political system that most Americans don’t trust; that failed to protect their livelihoods in the shift from industrialism to globalism; that made promises it didn’t keep; that puts more value in the results of the next election than the needs of the next generation. She could lose that fight…”

Michelle Obama had earlier, as a rejoinder to Trump, asserted that she wakes up in a home built by slaves and yet her daughters—“two beautiful, intelligent, black young women”—take for granted that a woman can be president. “(D)on’t let anyone ever tell you that this country isn’t great, that somehow we need to make it great again,” she said.“Because, this, right now, is the greatest country on earth.”

Obama repeated: “America is already great,” he said at the convention. “America is already strong. And, I promise you, our strength, our greatness, does not depend on Donald Trump…What could be more American than what happened in this place?…  What could more profoundly vindicate the idea of America than plain and humble people—the unsung, the downtrodden, the dreamers not of high station, not born to wealth or privilege, not of one religious tradition but many, coming together to shape their country’s course?”

This convention was touted as a radical rupture in the history of the Democratic Party because of the progressive influence of Sanders. In a country where the Left is either absent or derided, Sanders and his supporters created a parallel discourse. The convention thereby reflected a different mood: Wall Street reforms (inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement), curbs on obscenely rich capitalists, stringent financial regulations, $15 an hour minimum wage, social sector reforms, waiver of students’ loans, abolition of death penalty, criminal justice reforms, including the closure of the notorious private prisons, among other reforms.

ALSO READ: Can America Be United Again?

Crucially, despite Obama’s poetics and rhetoric, it was a pointer that he did little – including for the Black community, the unsung, the downtrodden, low station dreamers, among others. That, despite his noble intentions, the sublime discourse – he turned out to be a brilliant failure.

Joe Biden has seen it all from close to the ring. So, at 78, will he still hold on to the same silly old strings?

His popularity ratings dipped by around 53 per cent after the big botch-up in Afghanistan, which, of course, was begun by George W Bush. Hence, how is this botch-up pronounced in the self-righteous, self-proclamation of ‘greatness’?

Is it all always eyes-wide-open-wide-shut? So, what happened in Afghanistan and Vietnam? Or, what is happening right now in Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, among the Kurds? Or, whatever happened in Latin America for decades – and this was no magic realism!

Yet, are things changing on the ground?

In India, the prime minister has not faced a single press conference till date since the summer of 2014 when he took over. However, the White House does regular media briefings. Nothing is ever stage-managed. The president answer questions in a free and frank atmosphere. Difficult questions can be parried, but not blocked. Indeed, even Donald Trump faced a hostile media routinely – and he never crushed a query!

The White House Press Secretary, Jen Psaki, answers questions without any censorship. On September 20, she answered several uncomfortable questions on the drone strike in Kabul and the deportation of immigrants to Haiti. Since The New York Times and others exposed the killing of a family in the drone strike, this was perhaps the first time that she was talking on behalf of the American president. “This was done in error… Every loss is a tragedy,” she said, stating that investigations are on to make this mistake accountable. The journalists persisted.

Apart from this, her presentation marked what is perceived to be a paradigm shift in terms of the ‘progressive reforms’ being pushed by Biden. For those who have seen the homeless on the streets in New York, in freezing cold, this would be a pointer. The Press Secretary disclosed about a new initiative, ‘House America’:  “Homelessness was on the rise before the pandemic, and the last couple of years have just exacerbated the problem. On any given night, more than half-a-million Americans were enduring the pandemic without the safety and protection of a home. Thanks to the President’s American Rescue Plan — and Congress’s — everybody’s American Rescue Plan — communities now have historic housing resources to help more Americans obtain the safety of a stable home, including 70,000 emergency housing vouchers, $5 billion in HOME grants, and significant investments to preserve and protect housing on Tribal lands. In addition, communities have $350 billion in state and local Fiscal Recovery Funds from the Department of Treasury to support many needs, including homelessness and housing instability…The initiative will promote the use of ‘housing first’ — the proven theory that the best way to stabilize the life of someone experiencing homelessness is to ensure that they have a home first without preconditions — and so we are moving forward with that…”

ALSO READ: The Hill Biden Has To Climb

Biden’s ‘build back better’ model has four anchors: racism, economy, climate change and Covid. His latest is compulsory vaccination of 100 million private sector workers, federal contractors and health care workers. In a country where almost 60 per cent people have got free double vaccination since he became president, this follows the ambitious 100 million vaccination target in the first 100 days since he took over. In any given circumstances, these are important achievements.

The Pew Research Centre has documented in June 2020 that unemployed Americans have increased by more than 14 million — from 6.2 million in February to 20.5 million in May 2020. The numbers must have grown substantially by September 2021. This is also many times worse than the Great Recession.

Biden appointed Bernie Sanders as chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, knowing what to expect in the face of Right-wing opposition from within the Democrats and Republicans. And Sanders has been demanding a $6 trillion package. Biden has committed a $3.5 trillion package, targeting the economic recovery of the marginalized communities. Said Sanders, “The bottom line here is this country faces crises… working families are struggling and it’s about time we paid attention to their needs.”

Now House progressives are pushing to stop a $24 billion boost to defense spending in 2021. The Pentagon is reportedly spending $740 billion per year. It seems there are no lessons learnt from the Afghanistan and Middle-east fiasco, even while the arms lobby remains entrenched. 

“Despite trillions of dollars poured into our endless military spending, this budget has failed to meet the greatest threats that our nation and our world faces today, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis, and the needs of 140 million people living in poverty,” Representative Barbara Lee of California said in a letter to Representative Adam Smith, chair of the House Armed Services Committee. “Now is the time to shift our investments away from endless wars and toward addressing human needs.” (The Nation, September 21, 2021).

These are all signs of shifting social currents. An entire new generation is against war, inequality, racism, imperialism, capitalism, global warming, mindless consumerism. They refuse to proclaim that ‘America is the greatest nation on earth’. And they don’t really like the rich – including the ones who are indulging in space tourism these days with millions jobless, hungry and homeless.

New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wore a gown with the slogan ‘tax the rich’ at the Met Gala in New York recently. Her argument — push the debate on wealth redistribution in America!

“I thought about the criticism I’d get, but, honestly, I and my body have been so heavily and relentlessly policed from all corners politically since the moment I won my election that it’s kind of become expected and normalised to me,” she wrote on an Instagram story. “…Ultimately, the haters hated and the people who are thoughtful were thoughtful…But, we all had a conversation about taxing the rich in front of the very people who lobby against it, and punctured the 4th wall of excess and spectacle.”

Make America ‘Breathe’ Again

White people in this country will have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other, and when they have achieved this — which will not be tomorrow and may very well be never — the Negro problem will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed.
James Baldwin in Newyorker, November, 1962

Between Minneapolis police officer and his three colleagues who backed him, Derrick Chavuin, and Afro-American citizen George Floyd, it took just about 8 minutes and 46 seconds, to resurrect the jackboot of White supremacy and Ku Klux Klan racism yet again, in full public view, as a public spectacle for the whole world to see.

Pinned down by his knee on the ground for the alleged crime of using a $20 counterfeit currency note (like another White man who was let out easily and predictably), the knee is yet again becoming a bad faith/good faith metaphor in the United States of America, certainly not the ‘greatest nation’ in the world, as it routinely claims. Indeed, the cops in Miami, one knee bent, have proved the visual and symbolic value of this gesture – followed by protestors hugging them warmly, some with tears in their eyes.

Remember the infamous ‘Wounded Knee Massacre’, and all the other massacres of  the indigenous native tribes of the Americas by the ‘White migrants, immigrants and outsiders’ to capture their land, bodies, natural resources, and brutally ravage their souls, civilizations, memories, folk traditions and history? The massacre on December 29, 1890 and later, of more than 300 Lakota Indians by the US Army in the Wounded Knee Creek somewhere in the southwest South Dakota has been movingly recorded in that heart-breaking book: Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown.

ALSO READ: Protests Engulf US Over Floyd’s Death

Indeed, not only Black Lives Matter, the lives of the original inhabitants of these vast lands, killed by small pox, starvation, brute atrocities and genocides, too matters, though most of the last remaining native tribes, malnourished, ghettoised and degraded, have been pushed into invisible  forests and no-man’s land as third class citizens, outside the gaze of the so-called ‘greatest nation’.

George Floyd kept saying something which too has become a bad faith metaphor for the whole American society, White and Black, immigrants, Latinos, dissenters, intellectuals, journalists, homemakers, professional and students. Like that famous painting called ‘Scream’ by Edvard Munch, his last words reflect the suffocating reality of oppression which the largely marginanlised Afro-American communities, among other oppressed groups, face in affluent America.

“I can’t breathe,” he said. “Please help.” As he was pinned down, finally, calling out for his mother in his last moments. Murdered on the street by a White cop for no rhyme or reason, as is mostly the case with Black people in scores of similar situations all across the White supremacist landscape of this advanced capitalist democracy.

In recent times, this sinister and open legacy of murder has continued unabated, especially under the leadership of President Donald Trump. Some weeks earlier, Ahmoud Arbery was killed by White vigilantes in a suburb in Georgia; the video footage showed he was peacefully jogging. On March 13, an African-American woman, Breonna Taylor, was killed by the cops. Later, it transpired that they had botched it up again – they were searching an alleged suspect at a wrong address.

Indeed, the homeless streets of New York, perhaps one of the most democratic and expensive cities in the world, are a testimony of the destiny of the Black population in America. Even in the bitter, freezing cold, with temperatures falling below minus 40, they are out on the windy streets, in the night and during the day, poorly clothed, looking for the idea of fake warmth from the heating system’s steam which comes out from the streets and gutters. Capitalism in America is cold and cold-blooded – even a beggar has to get a coffee from a Starbucks café!

The prison system is yet another example, including those run by private parties, including the highly exploitative prisons, as reports say. Till about 2017, majority of the prisoners were either Blacks or Latinos/Hispanics, and the quantum of punishment they get is often disproportionate to the crime committed by them, it is reported.

According to a report by the Pew Research Centre, Blacks have long outnumbered Whites in American prisons. However, there has been a decline in the number of Black prisoners, according to new data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS).

The report declares: “At the end of 2017, federal and state prisons in the United States held about 475,900 inmates who were Black and 436,500 who were White – a difference of 39,400, according to BJS. Ten years earlier, there were 592,900 Black and 499,800 White prisoners – a difference of 93,100. (This analysis counts only inmates sentenced to more than a year.) The decline in the Black-White gap between 2007 and 2017 was driven by a 20 per cent decrease in the number of Black inmates, which outpaced a 13 per cent decrease in the number of White inmates… The gap between White and Hispanic imprisonment also narrowed between 2007 and 2017, but not because of a decrease in Hispanic prisoners. Instead, the number of White prisoners fell while the number of Hispanic inmates increased slightly. At the end of 2017, there were 100,000 more White inmates than Hispanic inmates (436,500 vs. 336,500), down from an inmate difference of 169,400 in 2007 (499,800 White inmates vs. 330,400 Hispanic inmates).”

ALSO READ: Donald Trump: What Is There To Not Like

Trump decisively botched up the pandemic aftermath, in initial and total denial. Consequently, more than 100,000 Americans have died, a large number in New York, something perhaps which never happened even while putting the death toll together in the civil war, the first and second World War. Anyway, since it is geographically so distant in the map, America has had the illustrious history of inflicting death and destruction across the continent, but remains aloof and safe, facing no consequences for its actions, unlike, for instance, what Europe faced, and Soviet Russia, during the war against fascism.

Indeed, the thousands killed in the middle-east due to American policies and ‘blood for oil’, remains a fact of bitter realism. While Germany under Angela Merkel can give shelter to one million refugees from the Middle East, much of America can only suffer vicarious guilt and detached anxiety.

Even the pandemic seems to have killed more Blacks than Whites; in the manner that the poorest workers and migrants in India have suffered the most after a botched up lockdown announced by the Indian prime minister. Even a pandemic is prejudiced when translated in different geographical and social circumstances. Indeed, the unemployment figures among African American in a routine scenario is 25 per cent – almost three times the national average. In recent times, post pandemic, reports point out that of those arrested, 68 per cent are Black and 24 per cent are Latinos.

Among the White supremacists, like those who backed apartheid in South Africa for decades, the summering longing in the political unconscious is for a ‘back-to-slavery’ syndrome. ‘Make America Great Again’, the Trump slogan, in many ways reflected that – Make the Whites Call the Shots. They call the shots anyway.  Loosely translated, it means give more power to the powerful.

Every gesture and word of the militarist and narcissist US president, including holding the Bible outside  an Episcopal Church in Washington DC, after using rubber bullets and tear gas against peaceful protesters, and ‘kettling’ them, is reflective of this perverse ‘White American Nostalgia’. Not surprisingly, the bishop of the church, and other Church authorities, have expressed outrage and anger at his gesture amidst police violence, and has strongly condemned it.

The silver lining in this American explosion is that both Blacks and Whites, along with other communities, across the class and social spectrum, have collectively taken racism by the horn. It is reflected not only by the Miami cops, or the Houston police chief telling Trump to “Shut up”.

It is mostly reflected by the great gesture of the White protestors, including women, who line up as peaceful vanguard, in front, protecting the Blacks, telling the armed cops, “Come, get us first, will you?”